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Exploring Bristol’s Past to Understand the City Today

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In October 2020 – after the bringing down of the Colston Statue – the mayor of Bristol announced a new History Commission to help Bristol better understand its history and how Bristol has become the city it is today. It is not just about the slave trade or Colston. Among the issues it will consider are: the growth of education; the struggles of workers for pay and working conditions; the Chartists and suffragettes campaigning for emancipation; wars and protests; the harbour and the docks; manufacturing and industry; research and innovation; transport; slum clearances, housing and modern gentrification; and migration and faith. The commission will work with citizens and community groups to develop these themes and ensure that everyone in the city can share their views and build a fuller picture of how the city has grown and developed over the years.

Our panel debates public history, who is remembered and why, and how and whether cities can learn from their pasts and make change happen. Two of the commissioners, Tim Cole (Brigstow Institute and chair of the commission) and Shawn Sobers (Associate Professor, University of the West of England), join writer and journalist Jane Duffus (author of two volumes of The Women Who Built Bristol, and currently working on a third) and Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, who has been involved in a range of memorial projects. Chaired by Jessica Moody (lecturer in Public History, University of Bristol).

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